the little choices

we sit at the oversized, red-toned mahogany table a salesman pressured you into buying. you have never admitted this to me.

my sister recounted the transaction, while you were showering. you were on the hunt for a sturdier, slightly larger table than the plastic black one you had. it wobbled when you put down a cazuela, so no, it wouldn’t do.

and, at a thrift store, this tall, reddish brown table caught your eye. the reflection of the spinning ceiling fan on its glossy tabletop hypnotized you. however, it was too large for the studio apartment. it wouldn’t do, you mumbled.

a lurking salesman noticed your lustful gaze and offered you a price. you shared that you were interested, but that it wouldn’t fit. how would you even take it home? it’s just too large. he said not to worry–he’d bring it to you and set it up for free. you politely declined. he insisted.

you both are at the apartment. you’re sitting on the couch, with your legs crossed, sipping an iced coke while he’s kneeling beside the table, piecing it together. he makes small talk. the weather is lovely. you are lovely. do you only have one daughter? she’s awfully quiet. is her mouth sewn shut? people must walk all over her.

you agreed with him. you wished aloud that she were more outgoing, talkative, and confident.

my sister watched you in silence.

she says you didn’t want this table, but at least you got to choose it. choosing is important to you. you remind us that our dad never let you pick anything that went on the walls. he never let you select furniture. he never let you choose.

you chose this bulky table, and you’re keeping it.

midnight dreaming

a home with large windows. wooden floors. a backyard where yellow roses frame a view of an empty ocean. there is an abundance of stars that glisten in the water. this is one of the many dreams i’ve whispered to the moon, who is full of secrets. secrets that don’t need to be said aloud.

she watches me try to balance being a good daughter and being true to my desires. she knows how badly i wish the two would overlap more often.

she warns that such freedom is loneliness.

i remember a time i laid below the night sky. the plethora of stars reflected endless possibilities: home with large windows. writing poems in mexico. coffee with friends. walking on portugal beaches. sipping wine in italy. bountiful sleep in the arms of my lover.

a shooting star combusts across the sky, and i wonder if this was a dream, too.

bruja at heart

‘magic is of the devil, and the devil is not invited into our home’. you remind us, your children, of this as my sister burns red candles and mixes her scented oils. i laugh. as if these things were magical. to spite you, my sister lights a black candle. ‘you are opening doors, inviting energies you don’t know how to handle’, you hiss, like a cat who is being threatened by the unknown.

you head back to the kitchen, where you resume boiling rosemary and herbs. the subtle, fresh, woody scent drifts throughout the apartment, almost warming it. you place the concoction in front of us. it is a soft shade of pink. ‘it’s the lemon. good for your immune system’, you explain, smiling. ‘i put some rosemary in a cup for you, by itself, so you can pour it over yourself in the shower. it cleanses away the bad spirits,’ you add.

i think your notebooks are one of your prized possessions. they are crammed with information about vegetables, fruits, clays, vitamins, herbs, oils, and their healing properties. you know what foods are good for the heart, what herbs alleviate colds, and what can make them worsen.

knowledge is power. you healed your own bleeding wound, with no scar to tell the tale. i still remember when i burned myself on my right elbow, and how you healed my burns. egg whites are useful–they help prevent scarring. my grandpa had skin cancer, and you sent him a package full of vitamins, clays, and herbs. he survived the cancer and he’s been healthy ever since. you remind me of this when you notice me taking ibuprofen or dayquil.

‘i don’t have any money, but in my will, i’ll make sure each of you gets a notebook’, you’ve joked.

my sister collects scented oils, lights candles, and draws the symbols she sees in her dreams in her notebooks. you’ve caught her, and you’ve told her that she is doing the devil’s work. we are catholics, and the priests warn against magic.

i laugh. it’s funny because you are magical, mother.

mother’s advice for a hot afternoon

we walk to la iglesia to the beat of heat waves
that amá tries to ward off with her black sombria
hovering over her head. she notices me wiping
sweat off my forehead. “take this so you won’t
get prieta like me,” she advises, handing me
the umbrella. i shake my head.
“there’s nothing wrong with that.”

we go to the church sin hablar, and as
the black nube lingers above her head, i think
about much easier it is for me to say that
being prieta is beautiful.

guilt

you have appeared to me in many forms.
today you hide in winter-themed covered packages
and exhale murkiness when i untie holiday ribbon–
you follow me like flies on horse shit. old friend,
your shadow often backpacks alongside mine
whispering my wrongs, reminding me of what
i could not do, what i cannot do–and you bask
in my frustrations, insisting that i can still be
redeemed, i can still fix things, i can still be loved.
like a spell that catholics murmur in the hour of their death,
i ask you to leave me be–
now and forever.

morning conversations

every morning, at the small square table
covered with a cream tablecloth that almost
grazes the floor, there is a disagreement.
sometimes it is about thrift stores, memories,
the taste of cinnamon, gun control–
but today, it is about tortillas.

did you know that some people put peanut butter in their tortillas?
my sister says, as she stares at the white woman on tv
eating a chicken wrap.

oh, yeah. i nod. i have a coworker who does that.
some people don’t even heat them up.

she frowns, and shakes her head.
ew. peanut butter and raw tortillas? weeeeird.

my brother leans back on his chair and replies,
maybe you’re the weird one.

what? i’ve been eating tortillas my whole life.

actually, my brother says, crossing his arms,
maybe that’s how they eat their tortillas, and
you were the one eating it wrong this whole time.
even my mom.

my sister rolls her eyes.
but it was my tortilla before it was theirs.